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In a time when movies devoid of high-tech and horrifying gore and violence are few and far between, Alan Alda's most recent picture, Betsy's Wedding, gives emotion-starved moviegoers a refreshing two hours of simple entertainment. Not Academy Awardwinning entertainment, just plain old family entertainment. I saw this movie with my mother. It's that kind of movie.
The film opens with Hopper (Alan Alda), the father of bride-to-be Betsy, in bed beside his wife, played by the hilarious Madeline Kahn. He is having a nightmare, and wakes clutching her in fear. Hopper's frequent flights of fancy are whimsically depicted in the film, and Alda is a master of whimsy. But Alda's comic touch is surest when Hopper's line between fact and fantasy blurs.
When Betsy (brat-pack actress Molly Ringwald) announces her marriage plans, Hopper decides he is going to throw the biggest, most amazing wedding the whole damned world has ever seen. His decision is cemented when his pride is wounded by his in-laws-to-be. Betsy's fiance Jake comes from a wealthy family from the East Side of Manhattan. His family is in investment banking--they buy and sell companies, Betsy explains to her chubby Italian aunt--and offer to pay for the whole soiree in high style. ("At the Plaza Hotel, maybe?" they suggest.) Hopper, at the suggestion, says he'd like to finance the wedding himself. He is, of course, again dreaming.
The happy-go-lucky construction man accidentally ends up going into business with the mob to finance his big mouth. The resulting scenarios are actually quite funny. Or at least cute.
Jake and Betsy are duly reluctant throughout all the proceedings. They had hoped for a nice, small wedding, not parental intervention. There are tensions between families over everything from the guest list (Jakes' parents want to invite business associates; Betsy's a sizeable number of Italian relatives) to the honeymoon (Paris, say his parents; camping, say hers). The "kids" are torn between allegiance to the traditions of their elders and allegiance to themselves. They don't, for example, want the phrase "man and wife" in the ceremony because it's sexist. They don't want the word "God" either, because neither of them believes and neither of them is hypocritical. The meal at the wedding reception cannot have meat--they are both vegetarians.
But the two eventually learn that weddings are not for brides and grooms--they are for everybody else. As Betsy's grandmother explains the cermony to the bride, "They give you presents and you give them food." In the end, however, the wedding is not quite the way anyone plans. In the end, of course, it is a happy and blessed event.
Despite the title, the movie does not focus entirely on the wedding. The most charming subplot centers around Ally Sheedy (another brat-packer), Betsy's little sister Connie. She is a delighually insecure police officer who "likes arresting people." Most men find it hard to snuggle up with a woman with a gun on her shoulder. When Hopper is asked by his wife how they can afford a second wedding for Connie, he responds, "It's okay--no one likes her."
But one man grows to like her--Stevie, a mobster who has a gun of his own in his jacket pocket. Sheedy grins and purrs her way through this awkward romance with her usual winning air.
But Alda and Kahn give by far the best performances. They perfectly capture the warmth and confusion of parents letting go. Kahn is at once neurotic and loving, and Alda, suitably nostalgic.
Ringwald alone does not not impress. She has yet to go beyond the formula she found in the beginning of her career. She whines, she pouts, she looks tremulous and annoys. She--again--wears wacky clothes. The only thing that has changed is the color of her famous mop--it has gotten progressively more orange and progressively less flattering. Ringwald would be better off spending less time at the hairdresser and more time enrolled in a decent acting class.
But these are pipe dreams akin to Hopper's, and best left at the theater door. If you can overlook the title character, you will enjoy the two hours. And so will your mom.
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